Hawaii Postcards

One of the fun things about collecting postcards is that they’re handy references of the way things used to look like. I’m not a generic postcard collector but I really do like getting ones which depict places I know and places I’ve been to.

A month or so ago I picked up a few cards which depict locations in Hawai‘i I’ve travelled to but look nothing like the way they were when I saw them. Sometimes this is due to development reasons. Other times it’s because of how nature has changed the landscape in the decades between the card’s printing and when I visited.

The first card is a white-borderded card from the 1920s–1930s and depicts the wide spot in the road which would become the Pali lookout. Nu‘uanu Pali Road still exists as the drive up to the lookout but it ends there in a parking lot and this portion of the road is now a pedestrian walkway. Meanwhile the Pali Highway goes through a tunnel bored beneath the lookout.

I have no idea where this image is taken from and there’s no way to access that location anymore. But aside from the size of the road and marveling at how it was the only way to get from the windward side of the island to Honolulu, I can also appreciate how wild that side of the island is. Looking out over Kāne‘ohe looks like everything is completely lush and unsettled.


Pali-1For comparison, these two views from the lookout show how developed the area is now. You can even see Interstate H3 winding around the base of the Ko‘olaus. There is still a lot of green though thanks to Ho‘omaluhia’s existence and the need to protect the city from floodwaters coming off the mountains.

Another view of the lookout this time on a much-older divided back card from the beginning of the 20th century. I love the horse-drawn carriage and cannot imagine making this trip through the winds and falling rocks on the this narrow stretch of road. The view here is looking up at the lookout as you approach it fro the windward side of the island.

pali-3I’ve actually taken a picture from almost this perspective. Yes, I used a wider-angle lens, but the cliffs and mountains are clearly the same. The first couple times I visited the lookout you could walk down the old road quite a way. The most-recent time though they’d fenced that off due to concerns about falling rocks and, I suspect, the fact that it was probably getting instagrammed to death.

DSC_0126.JPGI went even further down that road over 15 years ago and not only caught a view of where the postcard and other photo were captured but also the two tunnels under the pass which we drive through today. This view, despite the clouds, also points out one of the dangers in trusting old postcards as records of the past.

The mountains behind the one prominent peak are vague and sketchy because they don’t actually exist and have been added in to the postcard artwork. The postcard is a colorized black and white photo here the photo is sort of halftoned but all the colors are laid down in chromolithography dither patterns. The background mountains have no photographic information or black ink and are pure color added after the fact.

This linen card from the 1940s depicts the ‘Iolani Palace as it functioned as Hawai‘i’s capitol until 1969. This is an interesting one since not only do I have photos from my trips here, I also have a card from the 1890s which depicts the same building. This is a prime example of how fun linen postcards are since the color is super punchy and the artwork is extra crisp.

Iolani-1I don’t have much to add to my photo except to note that none of the awnings are present and that part of the second floor balcony in the corner closest to the viewer had been enclosed in the 1940s and has since been removed as part of the restoration of the building.

The last card is another linen card depicting Kamehameha Avenue in Hilo. That this is a linen card means that it dates to right before the tsunami* hit and destroyed everything in Hilo right up to one side of this street.

*caused by the April 1, 1946 Alaska earthquake.

UntitledI’ve been looking through my photos and on Google Street View to figure out exactly where on the street that photo was taken but, while certain parts look right, it appears that enough of the buildings have been remodeled just enough to keep me from making a positive identification. My gut sense is that the side on the left of the postcard is the side that remains and that we’re looking roughly North with morning light coming from the East.

I do however have this panorama of the remaining side of Kamehameha Avenue which shows that it’s still very much as-was. Hilo was hit with two huge tsunami in two decades and the scars of that are so deep that the town built a huge breakwater AND never rebuilt on the land which was destroyed.

What was once the main drag through town is now essentially a frontage road and parking lot. Still lots of shops (when they’re open) but nothing like what the postcard shows.

South side

Well, sort of the South Side. We took a trip to Pu‘uhonua o Honaunua via Punalu‘u and as a result ended up driving around almost the entire island over the course of the week. If only we had made it to Kohala…


As with our trip to Volcanoes National Park, we got going early because we wanted to avoid the tourist rush at Punalu‘u. It’s weird. You can see some people at Punalu‘u treating it as a curiosity because of the black sand. Meanwhile others are behaving like it’s a regular resort beach and laying out towels and trying to snorkel.

The larger location itself shows a mixed history here as well with the ruins of the Punalu‘u Village resort which was wiped out by an earthquake and its waves in 1975 still visible next to the parking lot. It’s a beautiful natural location but it’s also too popular to be left alone and most tourists don’t seem to know how to appreciate it.

While we had been hoping to see some sea turtles as we walked along the beach, we did not expect to see more than a half dozen. Some were swimming in the water, others were sunning themselves on the sand. A large part of the beach had been cordoned off to protect the ones on the sand but others were a bit too close to the snorkelers.


Continuing clockwise around the island took us to Pu‘uhonua o Honaunau. We arrived around lunchtime and had a nice picnic on the beach before heading into the park.

It’s wonderful to be able to see the ki‘i in context. While the ones in the Bishop Museum are the “real” artifacts, the versions in the park which are continuously replaced as the elements wear on them have a different kind of authenticity. The site is a religious one and maintaining that connection via the ki‘i and their renewal by native artisans is hugely important.

The wall and the heiau are also physically imposing and impressive. Where Pu‘ukohalā Heiau feels like a natural extension of the landscape, Pu‘uhonua o Honaunau has presence and you can feel the power of its mana when you’re near it (maybe Pu‘ukohalā would feel different if you could get closer).

There’s also something wonderfully peaceful about the rocky coast and the way it has tidepools full of tropical fish. It just feels like a place to sit and be calm.

We took a quick walk down the 1871 trail (part of the same Ala Kahakai Trail we were on in Waikoloa) where we got to see a holua sled run, various animal pens, and some solidified lava flows that had gone over the cliff. We turned around after taking the ramp up to the overlook of a spectacular lava tube cove because we wanted to hit the Punalu‘u bread company store before it closed. We’d been feasting on their bread all week and wanted to bring some back to the mainland to share.


Covering multiple trips we made up the Hilo coast.


Akaka Falls State Park is a shot drive up the coast from Hilo. We got lucky with parking since the lot was packed and we found one of the last available spots. The park was also packed but most of the traffic is on the short walk between the parking lot and the falls, especially because going the long way looked to be blocked off.

As crowded as the overlook was though the falls are indeed impressive. We watched them for a while and then continued on the rest of the nature walk. Much less crowded though there were still multiple clumps of people. It’s a nice windy path through the forest that’s fun for the kids to run along since it has stairs and bridges. We ended up back at the path that was supposedly blocked off but couldn’t figure out why it had been.

We initially planned on grabbing something to eat in Onomea but our Kona luck had followed us and everything was closed. It seems that nothing on the island is open on either Saturday or Sunday. So we ended up driving back to Hilo on the Old Mamalohoa highway curving in and out along the coast and passing a spectacular lava tube waterfall.


On our last day in Hawai‘i we went to the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden in Onomea. My mom really wanted to visit and it did not disappoint as it was kind of like the Akaka Falls walk except on steroids.

The garden is a labor of love which took seven years to remove a ton of invasive trees and plants and replace them with a manicured garden and path. All work was supposedly done by hand without machines too. The path winds down the ravine to the ocean. There’s a waterfall to “discover.” And everywhere you turn are amazing tropical plants from different parts of the world.

Orchids and other flowers were everywhere but there’s also something about the gigantic leaves and how lush everything is that makes everyone feel kind of small. Those leaves came in very handy since we got caught in a couple downpours and managed to hold off getting thoroughly soaked.

At the bottom of the ravine is a view of Onomea Bay. It’s spectacular to look at but also very much not the kind of water you want anything to do with. Most of the beaches in Hawai‘i are pretty inviting at some level. This one though felt a bit more like home to us Californians who see the water as something dangerous which you should never turn your back on.


After the botanical garden we continued up the coast to the Waipi‘o Valley Lookout. As soon as we passed Honoka‘a it started to rain again and visibility dropped a ton. Not the best weather for the view but it was still pretty spectacular. Plus, due to the weather and the fact that the road down has been made off limits to everyone except locals, the lookout itself was pretty much deserted (my previous visit the place was hopping with an overflowing parking lot and line of cars waiting to descend).



The day we went to Kona was our most disappointing day of the trip. I was really looking forward to seeing the Hulihe‘e Palace again and comparing it to my recent ‘Iolani Palace tour. Unfortunately their self-guided tour left much to be desired and neither explained the artifacts in the house (such as the exercise balls or the spears) nor the way the house’s history mirrors the history of Hawai‘i. One of my favorite parts last time was learning about how it started off as a lava and koa building without a kitchen before being remodeled in an increasingly western fashion and I was hoping everyone else would get that tour as well.

Moku‘aikaua Church was closed for reconstruction (disappointment number 2) so we just walked around Kona. The sea wall is always fun and it’s such a different environment than Hilo. Then we found out my favorite shave ice place was closed as well as the poke restaurant I’d been looking forward to all trip.

Neither closure showed up online but things like this were pretty common across the island. Despite parking being packed and the town seeming to be busy, things were eerily quiet at the businesses to the point where it felt somewhat like a wildcat strike against tourists (the more-likely explanation is that everyone wants weekends off now and there’s just not enough people to staff everything all week long anymore).


With everyone hungry and disappointed we decided to drive up the coast to Waikoloa because we figured there had to be something to eat there. Resort country is weird but when you’re touristing sometimes it’s the only place available to you.

However Waikoloa was nearly dead too. Half of the storefronts and restaurants were closed so I ended up buying food at the tourist supermarket. But at least everyone refueled and we were able to talk to the boys about how resorts work and show them how weird they are compared to the way we were vacationing.

Also, despite being resort central, the petroglyph field is very cool and was a great short walk to take after lunch to salvage something from what had been a disappointing day so far.

As part of the Kings Road slash Ala Kahakai Trail, there’s a mostly-unbroken strip of lava field cutting right through the resort. This strip includes a huge petroglyph field which the trail winds through and you can see various carvings and shelters that the Native Hawaiians had created centuries ago.

Lots of fun things for the boys to look for and point out and, despite being in tourist central, we sort of had the whole place to ourselves.

You also get a sense of how different the leeward side of the island is. Where Hilo is wet and green, the leeward side is dry, hot, and rocky and the people who lived there must’ve been especially tough.


After Waikoloa we drove up to Pu‘ukohalā Heiau and arrived maybe 30 minutes before it closed. That gave us plenty of time to see the site but not enough time to really watch the movie.

I love this heiau which feels like it’s part of the landscape. It’s another place that loops back to what we saw at the Bishop Museum in that it marks the location where Kamehameha completed his conquest of the Island of Hawai‘i and set his sights on the rest of the archipelago.

We also had a very nice talk with the park ranger who gave both a quick summary of why the park was important but also described the state of the site as it was before it was turned over to the Park Service. There used to be a road that went between the two heiaus with nothing preventing anyone from climbing on the loose stone.

The second bit about the how it became a park and what the Park Service has done to restore and maintain it was especially interesting. We asked questions about who was let onto the site now as well as whether it should still be maintained by the US government given other land-back movements on the island.

Not surprisingly the Park Service employee is in favor of entrusting the Park Service with the site. Though it is admittedly a tough question since there’s also no mechanism in place right now for determining who the best Kānaka Maoli caretakers would be either.



I felt a little bad about this but the day we went to Volcanoes National Park I kind of forced everyone to get up and get going early. I wanted to do the Kīlauea Iki hike early in the day before it got too hot and the park got crowded.

This was one of my favorite things the last time I visited and thankfully it was everything I had promised. It’s a “short” four miles in that it’s mostly flat and the views are so good you lose track of your distance. From up on the crater rim you can see how small the people in the crater look and then, after hiking down through the “bathtub ring” high lava mark, you’re down in the bowl and it’s like you’re in a different world.

There was a nice breeze blowing across the crater, the early morning lava hadn’t yet had a chance to absorb the Sun’s heat, and the hiking groups were spaced out enough so that we frequenty felt like we had the place to ourselves.

After that we drove to the trailhead for the Halema‘uma‘u eruption viewing. It’s not much of a hike—maybe a mile along a hot paved road—but the view is more than worth it. Multiple vents steaming and that palpable sense of power which changes your understanding of how the world works.